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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 23rd November 2008
DAVID WINPENNY, Co-Chairman of Ripon Civic Society, encourages a new way of looking at commercial premises in the city centre.

John Betjeman often said that too many people go round with their eyes on the ground and never look upwards above the shop fronts to see what the buildings are really like.

Looking upwards in Ripon is always a good idea. You’ll see details of buildings – carvings, patterns in brickwork, ornamental wooden bargeboards – that add to the historic fabric of the city. You’ll also see things that you won’t like – flaking paint, damp walls and broken down pipes, clogged gutters and general neglect. And if you’re looking above the shops, you’ll often see grimy windows and, behind them, the ghostly outline of boxes and disused display materials, full black bin liners and rubbish.

The upper floors of shop premises are often the most disregarded places in the city. Money is, naturally, spent on the public areas of the shop – customers need to be enticed in by a bright and attractive look – while other areas are neglected. Some upper floors may be used for bulk storage, but too many are left to gather dust and accumulate years of rubbish.

Yet these upper floors can offer a solution to another of Ripon’s problems – providing enough affordable flats and houses. The housing market may be slowing down, and we may not see such a rush to build new houses as we have over the last couple of years, but the need for affordable, small, rented flats is likely to remain.

The national organisation ‘Living over the Shop’ (LOTS) campaigns to have unused premises developed as places for people to live. There are many advantages to the scheme. As well as meeting the needs of residents and making good use of what is otherwise wasted space, it also brings people into the city centre to live. This is important, as it gives them a stake in ensuring that the city centre is cared for and is not allowed to become the nightly kingdom of unruly factions.

It needs vision from landlords and shop owners to develop a LOTS scheme. Certainly there will be problems of access and security, but there is plenty of advice available and examples of good practice are not far away. There will be encouragement and perhaps grant money available from government sources, local and national. And the rewards – not only financially for the landlord but for the welfare of the city as a whole – can far outweigh any difficulties. It’s time to grasp the opportunity.

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